Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae

I was lucky enough to be in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to see the opening of the film Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae by Swiss director Stascha Bader. What a wonderful film. Just amazing. The film narrated by Stranger Cole captures rocktsteady legends reuniting to cut an album of legendary hits and perform a reunion concert. The impressive lineup included Stranger Cole, U-Roy, Hopeton LewisSly Dunbar, Ernest Ranglin, Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley, Dawn Penn, Ken Boothe, Derrick Morgan, Leroy Sibbles, the Tamlins, Gladstone Anderson, Hux Brown, Bongo Herman, and Scully Simms. Moss “Mossman” Raxlen, the Montreal based reggae producer recorded the reunion session at Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica.

The king of the toasters U-Roy performs “Stop that Train.” This version is amazing and steeped in deep meaning. For historical context one must know about the trains in Jamaica and the boom and bust of economic development in newly independent Jamaica (Jamaica won independence from the United Kingdom in 1963). The film does a brilliant job of contextualizing the songs. We know exactly where U-Roy is coming from when he toasts over this classic tune. After the bust the trains stopped, the jobs ran out, the rude boys started to roam the streets, and many Jamaicans sought jobs overseas. When U-Roy toasts over “Stop That Train” he talks about the trains stopping and the people leaving. There is so much soul and history and culture wrapped into one song.

The vocal-group trio the Tamlins are in tip top form and the band leader/guitarist Ernest Ranglin has still got the goods. The drummer Sly Dunbar forms the backbone of the band as he has for decades and the rest of the legendary studio musicians perform magnificently recapturing the fire of the past.

There are some real gems in this film. Hopeton Lewis lays down the rocksteady anthem “Take It Easy” and later sings an excellent rocksteady version of “Rivers of Babylon.” Dawn Penn records her bread and butter track “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” and she talks about the endurance and popularity of the song. Derrick Morgan’s “Tougher Than Tough,” Ken Boothe’s Freedom Street,” Leroy Sibbles’s “Equal Rights,” and Judy Mowatt’s “Silent River Runs Deep” all appear, as well as a great rendition of Desmond Dekker’s classic “007 (Shanty Town)” by Ken Boothe. Marcia Griffiths performs “The Tide Is High” and reminiscences with Judy Mowatt about their time with the producer Coxsone Dodd, the legendary vocal group the I-Threes and with Bob Marley and the Wailers. A guest appearance by Rita Marley follows the widow through Trenchtown where she elaborates on the conditions of the ghetto and recalls her time with Bob in the yard.

I don’t want to give too much away about the film, but it will make you smile, laugh, and tap your toes. For people interested in music and culture, I highly recommend seeing this film. The album will release on the heels of the movie. The Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae album, which releases in August 2009, promises to be a big hit too. Many critics are comparing it to the Buena Vista Social Club, but I think it will be even bigger than Ry Cooder’s classic documentary about Cuban jazzmasters. Rocksteady will be an instant classic!

Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae

Amoeba Records vs. Waterloo Records

I got to check out some of the Amoeba Record shops on the West Coast. At Berkeley and San Francisco the Amoeba Record stores occupy large buildings filled to the ceilings with CDs, vinyl, tapes, and DVDs. The west coast stores remind me of Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas. But Waterloo has a very different system for organizing its music. Amoeba Records organizes its music into genres with experts that work each genre. At Waterloo Records in Austin everything is alphabetized with disregard for genres. Austin seems to mash genres so it makes sense for Waterloo to disregard genres. I found that I like both systems because they help me to explore music in different ways. It is nice to have genre categorization because it allows me to explore new artists in a particular genre. For example, I am a huge reggae fan and Amoeba had an extensive Reggae/Dub/Ska section which allowed me to browse through the genre and discover new artists and albums. I noticed that other genres where extensive as well, including large Rock, Heavy Metal, Rap/Hip-Hop, Jazz, and World music sections. Anyways I ended up with a handful of selections including good deals on Big Youth, The Dub Syndicate, Bounty Killer, and Tenor Saw albums.

I found that I like being overwhelmed with the size of a store’s selection. The Amoeba Record shops did this to me. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of music. I get bored when I’ve seen everything. I like to see new things. And Amoeba Records satisfied this desire for me. In Portland, Oregon I found Powell’s Book City to have a similar effect. The shear number of books, and especially books that I have never seen, overwhelmed my senses and satisfied my desire for seeing new things. I am satisfied with books and records, at least for right now.

Amoeba Records vs. Waterloo Records

Wake the Dead on K-MUD

On the way up Highway 101 from Humboldt County to the Redwoods I tuned into K-MUD, a local Humboldt station and heard a wonderful band–Wake the Dead. It is always nice to hear something new and refreshing and this particular radio station and band hit the spot. The Northern California celtic jam band celebrates the Grateful Dead interpreting the Dead’s catalog in new and exciting ways. I really got into Wake the Dead, finding their tunes a pleasant accompaniment to the scenic vistas of Humboldt County. I found the album Wake the Dead: A Celtic Celebration of the Songs of the Grateful Dead to be a fair example of some of the tunes I heard on K-MUD.

Wake the Dead on K-MUD

Reggae on the River 2009 – Reggae on the River in Humboldt County

I got to attend this year’s Reggae on the River Festival in Southern Humboldt County, California. The festival had a great local community feel and funds raised went to support the Mateel Community Center in Redway, California. The Eel River flowed through the picturesque venue located at Benbow State Recreational Area. Reggae on the River celebrated its 25th Anniversary in fine style. Positive vibrations flowed all day long. Soul Majestic played early in the day bringing their brand of soul-drenched reggae to the stage. The track “First Light” set the vibe and songs like “Rough N’ Tuff ” displayed the musical prowess of this young group. Soul Majestic also played the single “Better World,” which dovetails nicely with their positive vibe and eco-friendly message.

Queen Omega ignited the stage with soul, dancehall, and roots reggae. A native of Trinidad and Tobago Queen Omega sang “Love Ya Color,” “Judgement,” “Warning,” and “Ganja Baby” to an appreciative crowd.  The Roots Revealers bought Jamaican dancehall to northern California playing the songs “Long Road” and “No More Killing.”

The crowd-pleasing crown princess of roots reggae Etana turned it up a notch dropping the killer hits “Roots” and “Blessing.” The lovely songstress covered some Bob Marley and the Wailers tunes creating a wonderful vibe with the classic “One Drop.” Etana played some tracks from her newest hit album The Strong One performing “Jah Chariot” and “Don’t Forget,” and “Caltariba System.” And I was pleasantly surprised by Etana‘s cover of the Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down.” Etana finished her set singing “I Am Not Afraid,” which is from one of my favorite riddims: the “Rub-A-Dub” riddim.

The legendary vocal group from Jamaica The Abyssinians took the stage under the afternoon sun. Roots reggae filled the air with classic tunes like “Y Mas Gan,” “African Race,” “Let My Days Be Long,”  “Meditation,” and “Know Jah Today.” The Abyssinians took us to the Bible and the book of Daniel with “Abendigo,” turning the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendigo into a wonderful reggae and dub experience. And of course the reggae legends performed their megahits from the Satta Massagana album, including “Peculiar Number,” “Black Man’s Strain,” “Declaration Of Rights,” “Forward Unto Zion,” and “Satta Massagana.”

The Abyssinians at Reggae on the River 2009
The Abyssinians at Reggae on the River 2009
The Abyssinians Dancing at Reggae on the River 2009
The Abyssinians Dancing at Reggae on the River 2009

Tanya Stephens livened things up with a raunchy-rough riding performance that included plenty of references to “long ding dongs” with high-energy versions of “Boom Wuk” and “Good Ride.” The dancehall favorite “Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet” set a playful vibe and then she played the killer singles “Can’t Breathe,” “It’s A Pity,” and “These Streets.” Stephens showed her soulful side too with songs like “What Ah Day” and “Little White Lie.” But it seemed Stephens dominated with the playful tunes like “Tek Him Back” and “To The Rescue.”

Tanya Stephens at Reggae on the River 2009
Tanya Stephens at Reggae on the River 2009
Tanya Stephens at Reggae on the River 2009, California
Tanya Stephens at Reggae on the River 2009, California

Then the Yellow Wall Dub Squad took the stage to warm it up for The Mighty Diamonds. The bassist sang the song “Overlaod” and then King David sang a reggae version of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” The Mighty Diamonds entered the stage and played “Poor Marcus Garvey” and “Rise Up” from the album titled Rise Up. The roots reggae gems “Have Mercy,” “Right Time,” “Africa,” and “I Need A Roof” all made the set list. The “I Need A Roof” jam extended and transitioned into a cover of the Bob Marley‘s anthem “Get Up, Stand Up.” An extended version of “Pass The Kutchie” and a sweet version of the Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions tune “It’s All Rightt” capped off the set. Etana, The Abyssinians, Soul Majestic, Queen Omega, and The Mighty Diamonds then returned to the stage and all performed together for a finale. The all-star group of reggae performers sang the Bob Marley and the Wailers classic hit “One Love / People Get Ready.”

The Eel River at Reggae on the River 2009
The Eel River at Reggae on the River 2009
Dancin' Crowd at Reggae on the River 2009
Dancin' Crowd at Reggae on the River 2009

Reggae on the River 2009 – Reggae on the River in Humboldt County

Top 30 Albums of July 2009! – HOT SUMMER MUSIC for JULY 2009

July 2009

  1. Major Lazer Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do [Explicit] [Downtown 2009]
  2. Chali 2na Fish Outta Water [Decon 2009]
  3. Slaid CleavesEverything You Love Will Be Taken Away [Music Road 2009]
  4. Zee AviZee Avi[Brushfire Records 2009]
  5. Lady Saw Extra Raw: The First Lady of Dancehall [VP Records 2009]
  6. AswadCity Lock [Rhythm Riders 2009]
  7. Rhett MillerRhett Miller [Shout! Factory 2009]
  8. Mishka Above The Bones [J.K. Livin Records 2009]
  9. Bob DylanTogether Through Life [Columbia 2009]
  10. MicachuJewellery [Rough Trade 2009]
  11. ScientistInternational Heroes Dub [Tameki Wambesi Dove 2009]
  12. Mojo Morgangot Mojo? [Gedion Soldiers 2009]
  13. The LemonheadsVarshons [The End Records 2009]
  14. The AggrolitesIV [Hellcat 2009]
  15. The Low Anthem Oh My God Charlie Darwin [Nonesuch 2009]
  16. Various Artists Riddim Driven: Sweet [VP Records 2009]
  17. Dinosaur Jr.Farm [Jagjaguwar 2009]
  18. Ryan Bingham & the Dead HorsesRoadhouse Sun (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [Lost Highway Records 2009]
  19. EminemRelapse [Explicit] [Aftermath Records 2009]
  20. Jason LytleYours Truly, The Commuter [Anti/Epitaph 2009]
  21. Todd SniderThe Excitement Plan [Yep Roc Records 2009]
  22. Son VoltAmerican Central Dust [Rounder Records 2009]
  23. Mos DefThe Ecstatic [Downtown 2009]
  24. Levon HelmElectric Dirt [Amazon Exclusive] [Vanguard 2009]
  25. Tanya MorganBrooklynati [Explicit] [Independent Media/iM Culture 2009]
  26. DoomBorn Like This. [Explicit] [Lex Records 2009]
  27. Laura IzibiLet The Truth Be Told [Deluxe] [Atlantic 2009]
  28. J Dilla Jay Stay Paid [Explicit] [Nature Sounds 2009]
  29. St. Vincent Actor (Amazon Exclusive) [4AD 2009]
  30. Matthew Sweet & Susanna HoffsUnder The Covers: Vol. 2 [Shout! Factory 2009]
  31. WilcoWilco [The Album] [Nonesuch 2009]

Diplo and Switch present Major Lazer‘s Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do with special guests Santogold, Mr. Lex, Vybz Kartel, T.O.K., Mr Vegas, and many more. The creative DJ/producer duo amalgamates and mashes up tunes sampling from soca, calypso, merengue, and reggae, dropping fat beats, gun blasts, reggae air horns, and choice samples. An example of one of the more interesting and creative cuts is “Baby,” which adds an auto-tune to a crying baby. The killer reggae track on this work is “Can’t Stop Now,” which features Mr. Vegas and Jovi Rockwell. The harmonic Rockwell and Mr. Vegas create an easy-sounding classic reggae track among the hard-pounding dance jams. The track “Hold The Line” samples surf guitars from Dick Dale And His Del-Tones classic “Misirlou,” adding heavy beats and the vocal duo of Mr. Lex and Santogold. Some of my personal favorites on this album include the rough shod “Bruk Out” featuring T.O.K and Ms. Thing; “Cash Flow” featuring the roots reggae flavor of Jah Dan; “Anything Goes” with chaotic verses from Turbulance; and the dancehall sensation Vybz Kartel working “Pon De Floor.”

Chali 2Na‘s Fish Outta Water snap, crackles, and pops. A guest appearances by the Marley Brothers, Damian Marley and Stephen Marley, on the cut “Guns Up” piles deep booming funky fresh rhymes over a sweet melodic reggae chorus peppered by a Jr. Gong flow. The King of the Dancehall Beenie Man joins Chali 2Na on the tune “International” for searing dancehall reggae/hip-hop fusion. I found the single “Lock Shit Down” with Talib Kweli appealing and the track “Comin’ Thru” to be a hip-hop jam.

Texas songwriters Slaid Cleaves, Rhett Miller, and Ryan Bingham made the list this month. The Austin-based musician Slaid Cleaves sings heart-wrenching ballads playing Texas country music like it should be played. The song “Cry” on the album Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away will rip out your heart and have you reaching for the bottle of whiskey. American folk legend Bob Dylan dropped the new album Together Through Life featuring the ominous dark-sounding hit single “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’.

Zee Avi and Mishka add international flavors to the best albums of July, providing fun flip-flop rock and reggae sounds for the summertime. Jack Johnson‘s Brushfire Records handpicked Zee Avi for the label where she fits well with the laid back surfer motive. The Malaysian-born ukulele player’s new album is self titled Zee Avi. Reggae-drenched Canadian/Bermudian seafarer Mishka is the new artist appearing on Matthew McConaughey’s record label JK Livin Records. Mishka’s new album Above The Bones provides good summer tunes and positive vibes.

Top 30 Albums of July 2009! – HOT SUMMER MUSIC for JULY 2009

Weird Al Yankovic and the King of Pop

 

Weird Al Yankovic rode the Michael Jackson coat tails quite unlike any other performer in modern history. When you listen to artists like Weird Al Yankovic, DJ Spooky, Q-Tip, Herbie Hancock, and LL Cool J speak about Michael Jackson on the Thrillercast podcast you learn just how huge a superstar Michael Jackson actually was. In fact Jackson created an entire industry. Just think about the popularity and the money made from the parodies.“Weird Al” Yankovic’sEat It” and “Fat” made hits out of Jackson’s super hits “Beat It (Single Version)” and “Bad.” Jackson and Yankovic share the royalties of the parodied songs.  On the recent Thrillercast, a podcast celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the album Thriller 25 Super Deluxe Edition, Yankovic said he bought a very nice house with the royalties from the Michael Jackson parodies.

I loved Weird Al Yankovic as a kid and his videos were very funny.  My brother, friends, and I memorized the Even Worse album.  I even was a fan of his film UHF. Perhaps Michael Jackson is the King of Pop but Weird Al Yankovic must be the King of Pop Parody. I always thought Weird Al Yankovic was the son of the “King of Polka” Frank Yankovic. However, readers have informed me of the truth. “Weird Al” is not the son of Frankie Yankovic. Anyways go ahead and check out Frankie Yankovic and the Yanks on the album Frankie Yankovic & His Yanks’ Greatests Hits. Frankie Yankovic played a wonderful “Beer Barrel Polka.”

Weird Al Yankovic and the King of Pop

The Human Nature of Michael Joseph Jackson

Smokey Robinson opened the service reading condolence letters from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela. Watching the Michael Jackson memorial I was struck by Mariah Carey’sI’ll Be There.” And then Queen Latifah read a poem “We Had Him” written about Michael Jackson by the famed poet Maya Angelou. Lionel Richie performed “Jesus Is Love.” Berry Gordy of Motown Records gave a stirring memorial detailing how little Michael Jackson blew him away in Detroit as part of the Jackson 5 and then blew him away again with the moonwalk at the 25th anniversary of Motown Records when Michael broke off on his own and went solo with “Billie Jean (Single Version).” Gordy called him “simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” Following Gordy, Stevie Wonder made his way to the piano to thunderous applause and performed “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer.”

Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson addressed the crowd. Magic Johnson recalled his experience starring in the “Remember The Time” video and sharing a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken with Michael Jackson. Magic thanked Jackson for “opening doors” for African Americans across the world. Jennifer Hudson then performed “Will You Be There.” Al Sharpton spoke of the working-class Jackson family with nine children coming up and out of Gary, Indiana and Michael Jackson’s ability to breakdown racial barriers. “There’s nothing strange about your Daddy” Sharpton told the children of Michael Jackson, and then he thanked Michael Jackson for never stopping.

John Mayer performed “Human Nature” letting his guitar lead the song. After the weeping guitar solo Brooke Shields spoke of her friendship and bond with Michael Jackson. Shields claimed Michael Jackson’s favorite song was “Smile” written by Charlie Chaplin. Jermaine Jackson then performed a heartfelt soulful rendition of “Smile.” Bernice King and Martin Luther King III, the children of Martin Luther King, Jr, remembered Michael Jackson and spoke of loss and of the way that Michael Jackson reached out to Coretta Scott King. United States Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Texas spoke of the healing power of music making me proud once again to be a TEXAN. She talked about the message in Michael’s music. “Beat It (Single Version)” was about beating the violence and “Man In The Mirror” asked men and women to really take a look in the mirror at themselves. Congresswoman Lee reminded us that Michael Jackson visited wounded troops at Walter Reed Hospital.

An emotional Usher performed “Gone Too Soon.” Smokey Robinson recalled Michael Jackson singing the hit “Who’s Loving You” written by Smokey, but sung so wonderfully by Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 that it became a huge Motown hit and many assumed it was Michael’s song.  The child singer Shaheen Jafargholi then performed “Who’s Loving You.” The performers from the upcoming tour sang “Heal The World” and “We Are The World” with the memorial guests. 

I’ve been listening to Michael Jackson and Jackson 5 albums this week. The guy could sing. And when you see the videos the man could dance. Can’t believe MC Hammer ever challenged Jackson to a dance contest. Jackson would have slaughtered Hammer on the dancefloor. I’ve also been listening to remixes and different versions of his hits. Tarrus Riley’s version of “Human Nature” is one of the best reggae covers of a Michael Jackson song that I have heard.

The Human Nature of Michael Joseph Jackson